By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO
Baltimore’s Rosalynde LeBlanc has been a dancer for most of her life. “I was always around dance because of my mother,” LeBlanc explained of her mother, who was also a dancer. “Since my mother was a dancer, I was always involved in the arts scene. I kind of grew up in the studio although when I was young I wasn’t thinking of it as a profession for myself,” LeBlance told the AFRO.
Recently LeBlanc, a graduate of City High School, added filmmaker to her CV. Her documentary Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones And D Man In The Waters is currently making its film festival rounds.
Choreographed by Jones in 1989, the dance around which the film is centered, D Man In The Waters, takes its name from the vibrant Demian AcQuavella, one of the original members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, of which LeBlanc is a former member as well. “It’s still one of my favorite pieces,” she said.
One of Bill T. Jones’ most seminal works, D Man In The Waters was created at a time when the creative and gay communities fought against drowning in fear of AIDS, what it might do to them, and what society said it meant about them. Both contracting AIDS, Acquavella died a year after the piece was created and Jones’ romantic and business partner Zane, died a year prior.
The government’s response to COVID, LeBlanc feels, is similar to its response to AIDS so many years ago. “The lack of government’s acknowledgement about the seriousness is similar. Also the marginalization of the victims, It’s like, ‘We don’t really have to do anything because it’s only affecting people we don’t want to be around anyway.’ Here we are today with COVID and it’s happening again.”
The film was originally supposed to be a book. “I wanted to tell the story about Damien and Arnie and that original group. I found it so fascinating.” A chat with a former Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dancer made her rethink how she would tell it. “Greg Hubbard said ‘You know, this really has to be a movie because all these stories that we’re telling you, are embedded in the dance.’”
Though she left Baltimore years ago to pursue her craft, LeBlanc feels only fondness for the city. “Moving to New York made me appreciate the size of Baltimore. It’s much more manageable. And Baltimore is so artistically active.”
LeBlanc’s mother, who she describes as having had a very close relationship with, didn’t push dance. “She’d discourage me from going to certain schools and studios if she knew there was a lot of pressure on weight and body issues,” LeBlanc recalls. “Other than that she never pushed or expressed any desire for me to be a dancer.”
At about age thirteen, LeBlance began taking dance seriously. “I finally fell in love with dance seeing the Martha Graham technique. I loved the drama. I loved the feeling in my body. It was so satisfying.” She began serious training at prestigious Peabody Preparatory, eventually joining the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and then ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project.
Can You Feel It: Bill T. Jones And D Man In The Waters also follows LeBlanc as she teaches a new generation of college students the piece, giving the viewer a different perspective on the creative process, her passion for the piece is palpable. “It’s my most favorite dance I’ve ever danced. It’s special to me because of the way it feels. It’s also egoless. You can’t have an ego when you’re doing this dance. It strips you down to what really matters.” She’s currently Chair of the Dance Department at Loyola Marymount University.
She calls Jones, “A singular figure. He inspires where dance can go and human beings can go.” And marvels at his willingness and ability to take risks. “He has taken dance to such an expansive place: theater, technology, literature, live sound, soundscape.”
As an individual, she finds that Jones, historically one of the most influential Black choreographers, embodies American mythos. “When you look at where he was in the socioeconomic ladder of this country and where he is now, and so much of that is self- produced. I think he inspires an expansiveness of personhood and art.”